I am working through the book of ACTS at the moment and came upon two contrasting stories but with the same ultimate ending. One story involved Stephen, a faithful man of God who was chosen by the disciples to help out in practical matters as they focused on prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:1-6). Stephen wasn’t afraid to tell others about the good news of Christ. He even did great wonders and signs as testimony to the grace and power of God (Acts 6:8). However as expected there was opposition and Stephen was seized and taken before the high priest. He called the high priest and Jewish council a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51) as the the Jewish leaders relied on rituals to gain acceptance before God whilst their hearts remained cold to the message of Jesus as Saviour. Naturally the council were enraged at Stephen and had him stoned to death. As he was stoned to death, he murmured the words of prayer to God “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Sound familiar?
Then we read of Saul. He approved of what happened to Stephen and saw to it that great persecution came upon the church in Jerusalem. He was instrumental in having men and women thrown into jail for their faith in Jesus (Acts 8:1-3).The cruelty towards the early church was horrific, and it was Saul who was on the front line seeing it’s demise.
If I was to ask you at this point, who do you think would find their final destination in heaven, how would you answer? Surely Stephen would, as he was praying to God to take him just as he was stoned to death (Acts 7:59). As for Saul, the cruelty and barbarism would surely mean the fiery flames of hell would be his destination, and justly so! How could a just and holy God allow such an evil man into heaven?!
A number of years ago I remember having this chat at work with a doctor about what is just and fair in society and how God views it. I can’t remember how we got onto the topic, but it was intriguing where it went. He basically said that those in jail deserve what they get because of their crimes. Surely God would view them more harshly then those who didn’t commit the jailable offenses. I then said to him ‘what is the measuring stick you are judging these people by?’ What is the level of morality you are determining to be ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’. We all tend to naturally judge others according to our own level of morality and perception of good and evil. We tend to look at those who we perceive are worse or more guilty then us, so that we feel better about ourselves. I asked this doctor the question, ‘what if we judged all these people according to God’s required level of morality, ie perfection?’ How would the ‘scum of society’ in jail and the rest of us now compare? Would any of us be deemed ‘good’?
As we read through Acts we discover that this wicked and cruel man Saul is in fact the great apostle Paul, who one could argue becomes the most influential Christian in all of history proclaiming the good news of Christ!! How could this be? How could Paul be such an effective man for God when he was so crooked? Why would God use such a man???
It was to show him and us two things:
1) It’s God that saves, not us. God chose to use Paul. Paul didn’t deserve it by any stretch of the imagination. God alone has the right to do with this creation what He likes as He is Lord over all. In His mercy He chose to save Paul and use him to spread the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles (non Jewish people) (Acts 9:15).
2) To humble Paul so that he would completely rely on God for all his ministry needs. Paul knew too well that he didn’t deserve to be saved, let alone used for God’s work. He was broken by God, convicted of his sin and reborn a man of faith in Christ (Acts 9). Throughout his journey he faced huge obstacles – beatings, being thrown in jail, persecution, ship-wrecked etc. However he always came back to the simple truth that it was by God’s grace alone that He was saved, and it would be by God’s grace alone that he could persevere on.
Everyone is guilty of wrong doing before our holy God. In fact everyone falls short of His glory (Rom 3:21) and deserves to be judged accordingly like anyone who is found guilty of breaking the law. We are all by our very natures rebellious against God, no matter how good we think we are. When we see this truth, we realise that none of us deserve to go to heaven, but it’s only by God’s grace alone. We see our sin for what it is, and are convicted of our rebellion against God. The only way to redemption is to trust in what God has done for us… offering us salvation through the sacrifice of His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, so that we can be justly forgiven and given eternal life in heaven.
So the answer to the question of ‘who deserves to go to heaven?’ is….. whoever trusts in the work and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and follows Him. Only then will we be seen by God as morally perfect and without sin, with no charge to answer for. Only then will we be eligible and suitable to be in our holy God’s presence. Only then will we be able to walk through heaven’s gates and say ‘I am home’.
Soli deo gloria
When you use the word ‘deserve’, you are focussing on the individual, and something they may have ‘done’ to deserve the reward. My response to your question ‘who deserves to go to heaven’? is unequivocally ‘no-one’, absolutely ‘no-one’.
Our believing does not gain us any credit with God. We are not taken to be with Christ because we believe. Our believing is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in us, and that work ALSO brings about the essential ‘twin’ of faith which is repentance.
He chose His people, because He wanted them – not for any goodness or believing he could foresee in them. He brought us into this world, and ordered our lives and circumstances in accordance with His great wisdom and and mercy to the point where were born again by His Spirit and through His word.
If we hold on to even the slightest notion of doing something (even believing and trusting in Him) to deserve something from Him, we ruin the work which is His from beginning to end.
Good point! Absolutely no one deserves to go to heaven on their merits. It’s completely by God’s sovereign grace and the enabling of the Holy Spirit for us to have faith in Christ that we are declared righteous.
I understand where you are coming from with your argument, however one could argue we deserve to go to heaven based solely on the work of Christ on the cross. We don’t boast in our efforts, but in what Christ has done. It depends on how we view it. Through Christ we are seen as righteous, for that is what justification means. Therefore based on our righteousness through Christ we are free and worthy to enter into God’s presence.
The reason I used the word ‘deserve’ was because this world thinks it earns it’s way to heaven. Also we associate the word ‘deserve’ to something we have done or earned for ourselves. Clearly I articulate that is not the case. So perhaps a better response to the question is, no one deserves to go to heaven, however through Christ we are blameless and are eligible to go to heaven. However one could argue no one is eligible.
I think it comes down to understanding what it means to be justified through Christ’ blood. As far as God is concerned we are without blemish and free from sin and condemnation as He looks upon us through the sacrificial blood of Christ. Therefore we can we qualify to enter through heaven’s gates.
Soli deo gloria
I think ‘deserve’ clearly implies merit on the part of the individual (for example ‘he deserves a promotion’ or she ‘deserves something better’.
Our standing in Christ is in spite of what we deserve. To be clothed in Christ’s righteousness does not change what we are, or what we deserve. God the Father has said He will accept us on the basis of Christ’s atonement and the perfect righteousness he has put to our account. Our is a representative salvation. Christ has done it all for us, and the wonder of it all is that we did not (do no, and will not) deserve it.
Does my believing in Christ mean I deserve something? No! God the Holy Spirit gave me faith to believe in Christ, when prior to that time I was blind, wretched, and damned. I was in prison, and He released me. I had darkness, and He gave me light. I have NOTHING that deserves anything other than hell. Nothing.
Hi Soli deo gloria,
I agree I probably shouldn’t have used the word ‘deserve’ in the closing part of my post. The fact is no one deserves to be saved and go to heaven which I have clearly stated in the post and many others I have written. We can’t earn our salvation in any way. It’s completely God’s work so that He alone gets the glory. I think where the confusion came is that I was writing from the point of view that we deserve to go to heaven once we are justified through Christ. We never deserved to be saved and justified in the first place. However I suspect as you pointed out I shouldn’t have used the word ‘deserve’.
Maybe a better word would be ‘eligible’. Clearly through Christ’s sacrifice alone we are justified and presented as righteous and without blemish before God, thus making us ‘eligible’ to be with God in heaven. So maybe I could have finished the post by saying that no one deserves to enter through heaven’s gates however those who are justified through Christ are made eligible by God’s grace. We can not earn it or deserve it. It’s by God’s grace alone that we come to Christ in faith and are saved. Therefore it’s clear that we can never earn our salvation and that Christ alone get’s the glory.
Thanks for your input… one must be careful how we use words.
Soli deo gloria
Grace is a wonderful thing:
Ephesians 2: 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Grace. Its all about God.
Soli deo gloria
I recommend John Piper’s video on “Why did God choose to save us through faith”?
He makes this telling comment: ‘faith is empty, God is full’. Faith brings glory to God, because we express our utter reliance on him.
That tells me clearly that faith does not deserve anything – it is simply the vehicle God uses to bring us to Himself …. and it is the ONLY vehicle. There is no question about this!
Then the John Farese video is so full of the grace of God. It brought into my mind and heart the Joseph Hart hymn:
“How good is the God we adore
Our faithful, Unchangeable Friend!
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end
Tis Jesus the first and the Last
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come”
When testimonies, and preaching do this for your soul, you know there is something of God in them. Personally I look for those things that send my mind and heart and soul to God. Like John Farese, I can see some of the dark side of my sinful nature, but what this does is to drive me even more firmly to the God who loves me and has saved me with such power and grace and kindness.
I have heard that Sermon. It’s very valid. The gospel message takes away any ability for us to boast, because as you said… our salvation is all God’s work, and therefore to Him alone goes the glory. It also reminds us how sinful we are and how unworthy we are to be in His presence apart from Christ. How can anyone who embraces the biblical gospel boast in salvation or look down on anyone else. It truly is a humbling message.
I am glad that God is the one who will be judging me and not man. He has already judged my sins on the cross at calvary. Thank you God for Jesus.